Week 16.. all you need is love

Hello lovely people!
Okay, so the challenge this week has  definitely got me excited.
‘Find a way to share the love of God in your local area’
I love it because its  so simple and can be done in so many different ways.. I guess it could range  from something as simple as picking  up litter when I’m walking down the street to actually finding opportunities to share the gospel with people in  my life.
I’ve never been one of those people who  stands on a box in the middle of a busy town and  shouts ‘THE END IS NIGH… REPENT’… In fact, I’ve never really got the point of it because, in my opinion, it starts everything off on the wrong foot.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m a broken person, and that without the forgiveness of Jesus I’d be lying face down in my sin right now not even knowing that I’m doing something wrong.. but I also believe that the root of Christianity is the grace  of God…. and that it is because God picked me out of a hole and said ‘Hey, you’re alright, keep going, i love you’ that I can sit here today and say all of this with a smile on my face.
Recently, I’ve been learning a lot about how we are called by God to love people. I keep being  reminded that Jesus was a friend of sinners, that he loved the outcasts in society and encouraged everyone else to do  the same.

One verse that I have overlooked so many times but that I’m finally starting to realise the beauty of is Luke 10:27 which is where Jesus says, ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your  neighbour as yourself’ 

If you were to strip everything else away, that’s what it comes down to, loving God and loving his creation. I remember doing a talk in Church when we got back from Mexico last year, and I talked about how the two blend into one…. When we surrender our lives to God, he starts to transform us so that we  are more freely able to love. Now, that is not me saying anyone who isn’t a Christian doesn’t love… it’s me speaking from personal experience that God has enabled me to love and feel compassion for people I don’t know, and has introduced me to people who appear to love everyone unconditionally and who have challenged me hugely to do the same. That’s why I find this challenge so exciting, because its a chance to really put into practice the idea of showing love. I’ve realised something pretty recently, and that is that loving is simple, but it has major effects. The best example I can think of is when I went to Cardiff with some friends this time last year  to see a concert… (sorry if I’ve told this story before, I haven’t checked, but its definitely relevant right now!!).

After the concert in the evening, we walked from the flat we were staying in to a shop  just around the corner to grab some goodies for  an evening feast… on our way, two of my friends realised a homeless man sat in the corner and went over  to speak to him, bought him a coffee and sat down and spoke to him some more.. in the end.. we all did, and a moment which makes me laugh even now is when some drunken people on a night out stumbled past us shouting ‘OI..  What’s going on here then?!’… The answer we could have given  them had they not continued to  stumble off in  the other direction was ‘just loving’. Now, I’m not going to take all the credit for this.. I joined in with my two friends who ‘made the first move’… but I honestly cannot tell you how much that struck me.. not only  the boldness to do it,  but the fact that they wondered over, no questions asked, because they knew  that it’s what we’re called to do. They went back continuously during our  stay and spoke to him a lot.. and I can’t help but think.. that is so the gospel being put into practice.. If they had ignored that man, he wouldn’t have heard about Jesus  that day, and its moments like that which change people’s lives.

Next year, my school is hosting a Mission Week for all the staff and students, and I found out on Monday that the  theme is ‘I can do small things with great love’. I think this idea sums up this weeks challenge for me… I’m not planning to do anything huge, but I’m doing it with love, through the love of Jesus, and I know in my heart that love is what it’s all about. This isn’t be making an excuse for not  doing something ‘big’, its me acknowledging and in many ways, loving is like breathing.. it should just be natural to us to the extent that we don’t even think about it… and  this is something I’m continuing  to  explore this week.
Thinking back to the verse in Luke, I’ve been reminded of a verse in 2 Corinthians 4:16

‘Though outwardly we are wasting away yet inwardly we are being  renewed day by day’

Like I said in my blog last week, God is stirring in  me compassion and love for the people around me and teaching me to open my eyes.. what’s he up to  with you?
God bless!
Maddie x

Week 4; fasting and feasting

Stomach awkwardly growling during a dentist appointment? Check. Bagels on the counter looking like a  little piece of heaven? Check. Biting my lip in order to resist the temptation of food? Check. If you haven’t guessed it yet, week 4 for God 52 has been about fasting, with the challenge to take part in a 24 hour fast. Okay, so I’ll put my hands up straight away and say this has been tough… and from what I’ve seen on the God 52 blog, I’m not the only person who has found this one difficult… which is kind of reassuring. You only have to look at my tagline to see that I LOVE FOOD, especially peanut butter… and chocolate. mmmmmmmmmm.

So… how does someone who loves food.. or indeed anyone at all, approach something like this? Luckily, I’m not inexperienced in the world of fasting. On several occasions, I’ve taken part in fasting with my youth group, twice at an event called Slum Survivor, where a group of people get together and ‘spend a weekend the way millions spend their lifetimes’ and then once again at an event called 24:1, where members of my youth spent  24 hours in fasting and prayer. Now, I’ll start by saying that on both  occasions, I failed. Slum Survivor was not a complete fast, but even when we were spending time without  food, one of my Youth Leaders handed me a block of chocolate with the fear that I was about to faint.. (whoops!). Then, at 24:1.. I showed up late having just got off a plane from my holiday, armed with a bag of wine gums because I’d spent 4 hours in the air feeling like I was going to throw up.. (double whoops). So admittedly, I’ve never really got stuck into a fast properly. However, from experience, when people fast… great things happen. With that in mind I took a deep breath on the way to the Dentist when I read the challenge for this week,  and decided to fully embrace fasting… you know what they say.. third (or maybe even fourth?!) time lucky!

Despite signing up to take part in fasts several times, I’ve never really understood it, and I’ve never gone it ‘alone’. I’ve always been surrounded by people going through the same thing, experiencing the same stomach pangs and (especially in the  case of Slum Survivor, when the slum I was sleeping in fell on  top of me in my sleep) there has always been something going on to distract me. So, straight away, this time was different. I was going it ‘alone’… and, on a day when I had no school, there was nothing to distract me apart from terrible daytime television and the building mountain of  school work that I’d been trying to avoid for days.

This is where I think I made the first mistake. I’d love to sit here and tell you all that every time i’d spent my whole day in prayer.. laying everything before God and replacing my physical hunger with a desire to listen in to what he was saying, write in my journal, read my bible etc etc.. but that didn’t happen at first..  For the first 2-3 hours after I got back from the dentist, I spent my time watching Cowboy builders and catching up on school work… Every time my stomach rumbled, I would dive deeper into a textbook in an attempt to fill my head with long words rather than food. It then finally dawned on me that  I was never going to survive  the fast without going crazy without God.. and I rethought what I was doing and replaced the stomach rumbles with a prayer that said, ‘God, I’m hungry for you’.

At one point in the  day, I was reminded of the song from Jesus Culture ‘Fill me up’ which seemed to be so appropriate to the day that I was facing. The lyrics that stuck in my head were, ‘love of God, overflow, permeate, all my soul’. The word that struck me the most was ‘permeate’… not only because I’m a keen Geographer (or so I like to think)  but also because of the meaning of the word itself. The dictionary definition of  permeate is ‘to spread throughout’… but when I got taught the meaning of it in GCSE Geography last year, I got the idea that it meant that something could literally ‘break through’. With that in mind, I had an awesome image of God literally breaking into my soul, not just one part of it, not just for five minutes whilst I fought off the desire for a bagel (yes.. I like bagels too) but for a lifetime. It was this image that got me through the day. I  realised (and not for the first time) that when we face trials in life, we don’t do it through our own strength, but through the strength of God within us.
‘Look to the Lord and  his strength, seek his face always’ – Psalm 105:4

And that leads me into my second mistake of the day..  getting it into my head that I was ‘alone’. The truth is, no matter how deserted you feel, God is always with you.. and I really felt his strength in me as I fought the urge  to eat! Now.. you fitness fanatics out there in the cyber world are probably reading this wondering what all my moaning is about, wondering what is so hard about fasting for a day? I guess you may have a point. But, one thing  that I learnt is  that  there’s a difference between fasting and finding comfort or distraction in earthly things like Jeremy Kyle and Jane Eyre, and fasting and finding refuge in God and growing closer to him as a result.

You may have noticed that I have given the entry this week the title ‘fasting and feasting’. The reason for that is because in  fasting for a day, I was able to feast on God. When I called on him. he came and gave me a strong image of his faithfulness to me in  the form of a Jesus Culture song (what can I say? God knows me well, and he knows how much I love JC!) Through this, I learnt more about who he was, but I also realised that I need to become more dependent on him in  my daily life. It was so great  to replace my desire for food with a desire for him.. but why not be more like this everyday? In the light of this, I’ve found another great quote on the web.

‘Fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen and confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain  what we seek for the kingdom of God.’- Andrew Murray.

In those few hours, I developed a dependency on God to survive. I honestly felt like without him and his strength, I would not be able to last the day without making a cheeky sandwich or ‘sipping’ on some soup. On reflection, once again I feel challenged, and that’s  the beauty of God 52. Imagine if I lived every  day completely believing that I would not survive without  him and his faithfulness to me? In my heart, I believe that i’m dependent on God for survival, but imagine if every day I desperately clung to him with the same hunger  and desire that I felt whilst fasting. I’m not saying I’m going to  fast every other day, or once a week, but if this is the way of disciplining myself to be more dependent on God, then that’s the way I’m going to do it. Forget New Year Resolutions… It’s more like a New Year Revolution.. changing my life to ‘act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly’ with my God.
Here’s to week 5. Enjoy feasting on God in the meantime!
God bless,
Madailein  x Image

Week 3; getting to the heart of humility..

Hello! Well what a week it has been…
Ironically, even though this week has been about developing humility, I’ve spent most of it stood in front of people telling them how amazing I am, and why they should vote for me to be Head Girl. Fortunately, that one worked out in my favour… however, as always, it came at a perfect time because having to actually highlight my good features to people has reminded me about the importance of humility and remembering where our identity comes from.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less- C.S. Lewis.

This quote got me thinking straight away about what I think it means to live more of a humble life… Okay so I’m not Gandalf… I don’t have a long white beard and by no means am I pretending that I know everything, but here’s how I see it.

I don’t think being humble is  about thinking we’re useless and good for nothing, I  think  its about accepting that we are created by God, and  therefore all of the ‘great’ things about us come from God. I guess this is why humility is so important, because as human beings, we are so hungry for praise, we constantly want to be told how great we are and we want acknowledgement for everything we do. Okay.. here’s my own personal example. When I went on mission to Mexico with my youth group in, I came home and immediately put my memory card into the  telly, and straight away I was like.. ‘MUM, DAD look what I did!!!‘ For about ten minutes, the team I worked with, the people behind the scene who helped me get there, and the family themselves were out of my mind whilst I tried to impress my dad with my new extensive knowledge of house building.

The problem with this is that everything became about me, when actually, I was a small part of the crazy things that God got up to out there. I can’t sit here and pretend that I find humility easy, I don’t. It’s a hard one, because we live in a world and a culture where affirmation from people defines how good we feel about ourselves, and even when we get it we either reject it or lap it up and become too fixated on our own achievements. To live a completely humble life would be to turn my life upside down; we’ve been spoon fed compliments for so long that we feed off them, and when we don’t get them… we’re left wondering what’s wrong with us. We can sit back and think something along the lines of ‘Well maybe my grade in that test wasn’t as good as the last’ or ‘perhaps they just don’t care about me today’.  This has been a hard week for me, thinking about humility in the  light of competing for something that I care so much  about has not been easy because I’ve felt such a confliction of thoughts!! This is the conclusion I came to, our identity as human beings does not come from the compliments or the praise that we get, but from God alone. After all, we are made in the image of God, which means we’re exactly how we should be… in  that case, how can we really compain?!?!  It’s when we start to reassess our priorities and put God first that the revolutionary stuff  happens,  because our living is defined by a loving God who truly wants what is best for us. It even says so in one of my favourite pieces of scripture;

Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not  to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future’. 

 Yes, as humans we are desperate to be loved, to be cherished and to be praised…and yes that comes from people that we know and love on earth, but first and foremost, it comes from God, as it says in 1 John 4:19 ‘We love because he first loved us’. 

But WHY does putting God first mean living a humble life? Well, in my eyes its because we won’t be searching for praise from people anymore, because we only have to look  at the cross to know how much we  are loved. Imagine how  revolutionary it would be if we truly stopped living by our agenda, and  started to live by the agenda of God. Imagine if, for every human being on the earth, the desire to be praised and told great things about ourselves was replaced with a desire to know God more… if at all, and to spend time in his presence, and to want to do his will before our own… We would literally be living selfless lives, doing everything in his name and for his glory… Imagine that.

With all that in mind, I come to the challenge for week 3 of God 52 which was to ‘perform an anonymous act of kindness’.  Now obviously, I’m not just going to announce what it was, as  that wouldn’t make it ‘anonymous’ anymore…. but  I can honestly say that even now, I can  see the fruitfulness of it.  For me, this has been the greatest part about this week.. no  one who sees what happens as a result of this is going to say ‘oh  wow, that’s amazing, Maddie did that’… they’re going to give the glory to God, the true craftsman behind it all… AND, I’m going  to be doing that too because I’ve learnt that when it comes to God, we can only say something along the lines of what Matt Redman sings… ‘you alone are holy, only you are worthy God let your fire fall  down’ 

When we see amazing things happening, or even little things (as I said in my first blog, ‘every little helps’) happening  that are good, we should give glory to God. It’s like  that saying people use ‘credit where credit is due’… well guess what?! God, the creator of the universe deserves credit for all of the goodness in our lives. Everything that I have  done, am doing now and ever will do is down  to God… because he  created me. I’m doing things because of him, so how about I do the final bit and truly in my heart do them FOR  him? Not for  my own satisfaction, not for the  sake of looking like a nice person to the people around me, but for the glory of God, to see him lifted high and  exalted… because that is where he belongs, on a  throne in our hearts.

This week, I’m  praying that I can continue to live with that in mind, and hey… if that means God coming in and turning everything upside down.. then so be it!
God  bless!
Madailein x

Week 2… Parrots, prayer and praise.

Hello again! What a 5 days it has been. Firstly, the reference to parrots in my blog title is due to my brother who decided it would be funny to paste many photos of parrots on my Facebook in order to kill the last five minutes of a long work day. To those of you reading this thinking ‘is that the best she has?’ Yes.. I’m afraid it is. That’s the life of a 6th former for you…all work and no play for me! 

This week, the focus has been all about prayer, and whilst ‘surfing the web’ I came across a pretty good quote which starts things off quite nicely. 

‘Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven, but getting God’s will done on earth,

It is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying  hold of God’s     willingness‘ – Richard C Trench

Prayer is a beautiful thing, and on reflection this week, I’ve realised exactly how much I take it for granted. The challenge  set this week was to spend 3 hours persistently in prayer for one thing, and whilst this was amazing, I wanted to also spend time this week assessing exactly what prayer is in my life. Ever since one of my friends quoted ‘prayer should be a conversation and not a monologue’, I’ve taken a whole new perspective on what prayer is.

At primary school, I remember being taught something similar, that in prayer we are simply talking to God. Now, at the grand age of sixteen (nearly seventeen!!!!) the same simplicity applies. There’s a worship song with the lyrics ‘I am a friend of God’ and it made me think of prayer in comparison to a conversation with a friend. Whilst prayer should not be a monologue, it also shouldn’t be an awkward 2 second conversation either; like the kind you have when you see someone you know somewhere and make awkward conversation with them until one of you goes off in a different direction. What kind of friendship would we have with someone if we never spoke to them? A pretty crap one probably. Sure, I could use the excuse that I’m a busy bee studying A levels and getting way more stressed than necessary, but (as I discovered whilst browsing other God 52 blogs this week) Jesus took time away from the crowds following him to be alone in prayer. It’s precious and its important in developing a sound relationship with God.

So, 3 hours of persistent prayer for one thing? Okay, I have to put my hands up now and admit that it hasn’t gone my way this week. It took me so long to decide on one thing that by the time I’d actually got my mind fixed on it, time was running away from me. For now, let’s just say its a working progress.  Although I haven’t necessarily completed the challenge this week I have drawn closer to God in the process. One night this week, I picked up a little book from my shelf which I’ve written prayers in over the past 2 years. Okay… WOW. Reading that book summed it all up.. There are so many answers  to prayer, so many pleas from me to God where I could remember writing the prayer with hopelessness on my heart, not really believing anything could happen… and yet there I was, a few years down the line being able to  pick out answers to prayer that I never thought would come. That alone summed up the week for me. Sometimes, the little things remind of the massive things. Like how this small note book reminded me of God’s GRACE which is kind of a biggie. 

I’ve always told myself that its important for prayer  to not become a burden in my life. The day that I roll my eyes at the thought of sitting down and spending time with God is not a good one, I need to get excited about prayer!!! The prayer diary I found reminded me of a time when I was way more dependent on God than I am now, and times when I was  still discovering who I was as  a christian. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this week its that I need to get  back to that point…  the point of depending completely on God. If I’m having a bad day I usually go home and make myself a peanut butter sandwich (yes, I do enjoy the finer  things in life) before curling up in my bed and feeling sorry for myself… but why not change that? Why not give it all to God? On Sunday night at church, I had one of the most intense times of worship for a while… and suddenly, everything that was on my mind was summed up in a few worship lyrics:

‘I’m giving you my heart, and all that is within,

I lay it all down, for the sake of you my king,

I’m giving you my dreams, laying down my rights,

I’m giving up my pride, for the promise of new life’  

AAAAAH isn’t that amazing?! A true expression of the heart that says ‘God, I’m giving it all to you’… and why do we give it to him?! Because its safe there. There are countless places in the bible where we hear about God taking our burdens and giving us rest, and prayer is a way to achieve this… Not only  to give him what’s on our hearts, but also to praise him, thank him for what he has done and ask for more of it in our life. This whole thing reminds me of the little surprises God gives us in life. In April last year, I got on a plane with my youth group to travel to Mexico and its fair to say I was pooping myself. I waddled through the plane with a lump in my throat, knowing that really… it was all going to be okay. A few minutes after I sat down, the in flight television turned on, and what do I see? An advertisement  Not really that exciting. Except, it reminded me of a bible verse which  reminded me that it was all going to be alright.

Matthew 7:7 ‘Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you’.

Not only did this apply to the challenges facing me in Mexico.. but also to prayer. God responds to prayer, in the most loving way possible. It’s kind of like a roller coaster (which is kind of a bad example because I’m scared of them) .. You can’t experience the thrill of going down without the climb of going up.. and this week, I’ve realised it’s the same with  prayer. We’ve got to trust God and jump in at the  deep end,  give him our hearts, tell him what’s on our mind… GO ON. What’s  the worst that could happen?! 

I don’t know what the next challenge is.. so I guess next week will be a surprise. 

Be blessed! 

Madailein x 

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God 52… Here we go!!

So, here we are.. 2013!! 2012 was one of the busiest, most stressful and beautiful years of my life, and I cannot thank God enough for how he has blessed me and per sued me over this year… If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in faith, it’s that he well and truly never gives up, and his love is completely and ultimately unfailing. WOO!! Image

January is my favourite time of year… its the time of year when  the woolly socks can come out and my house feels a lot cosier than normal.. It’s also the month of my birthday WOOOHOOO! This year, I’m turning 17 and will thus be having  driving lessons… stay off the roads.. Watch this space for my progress and  pray for my driving instructor.. The poor bloke!!

I’ve never  really believed in New Year resolutions, I always think to  myself, ‘why make a change only in a New Year? Why wait? Why not just do it when its necessary?’… So, as 2013 drew ever closer and people started talking about their new year resolutions I naturally just switched off. That was, until at Youth Church on Sunday morning, my youth pastor mentioned something about ‘God 52’, which is basically a resolution set up by a man who believed that when it came to his faith, he walked the walk, but he didn’t talk the talk. As soon as I heard that explanation, my ears pricked up. Oh how guilty I am of being a hypocrite  or having such a desire to share my faith with people without really thinking about the foundations of it… how to behave and ultimately.. how to love. In his own blog, this guy used the term ‘An irresistible resolution’. This again struck a chord with me. Of course  its irresistible… This man is challenging us to live our lives more in the way that Jesus did, and to deepen our relationships with  God in the process.. how does it get better than that?!

So far, we’re on week 2. Ultimately, this is a  challenge to think more about living out christian values in my every day life… but I don’t want this to become some kind of religious ritual. In the midst of exams, coursework, daily stresses and the need to have a sleep every once in a while, I will probably forget to do some, or not write a blog for a bit, or perhaps even forget that I’m doing it. That isn’t the aim obviously.. I don’t start with the intention to fail… however everything is determined by God, and  when its right, he will set the appropriate things on my heart! AHHHHHH so exciting. I started this whole thing late… however so far I have at least tried week one… (not too bad eh?!). For week one,  the challenge was to ‘be radically generous’. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a great job of this, however I did give some money  to a friend of mine who is  going on mission in the summer. In the  words of TESCO.. ‘every little helps’. This friend of mine is a wonderful individual who has been through a lot in the past year, and… as selfish as it sounds, to see the joy and surprise on her face  was amazing and captured my heart, reminding me that these moments are individually  crafted by  the creator of the world. Kind of a big deal huh?

Week 2 brings a second challenge which I am hoping to get absolutely stuck in with.

‘Pray persistently about one thing for three  hours this week’. 

How hard can it be?! In the past year, I’ve really developed a stronger prayer life, however as always, there is room for improvement.The guy behind God 52 wrote about how when he prays, so many things can rush into his head and he’ll start spurring off about a load of things and lose concentration and get carried away, and this is definitely something I suffer from too. How can we condense it all?! I don’t know what one thing I’ll be focusing on yet, but hopefully God will set something on my heart in due time. It could be anything I guess… Part of me is saying… why not pray for a miracle?! They’re happening  every day.

I will of course try to keep you posted. Let’s hope it goes well. And, as the genius behind this idea also wrote in his own blog, if  the consistent prayer  fails, then at least I’ve  set aside time to be in his presence and just to know him more. In the  words of Jesus Culture ‘In the glory of your presence, I find rest for my soul’…. It’s been a busy couple of  weeks, perhaps I could do with some ‘soulful rest’… We’ll see!

God bless,

Maddie x